March 17, 1964: Pensacola, Florida
In the quiet of the darkness, a long dark automobile slowly pulled up in front of 316 West Romana Street and stopped. The driver’s window came down and, in the shadows, the two dark figures could be seen in the front seat. At first, the dark ominous figures simply stared at Hank. It was strange that he was outside his home at that time of morning – 4:15. Further, it was cold for a morning in the month of March in Florida. The frost could be seen on ground, even in the darkness. But Hank couldn’t sleep. He knew they were coming, and he was far too nervous to lay down and accept what he felt was inevitable. He hadn’t slept well all night, anticipating the arrival of the long black car with the grim reapers inside. He had been expecting them for several days. Hank strained and squinted to see if he could recognize who was in the car, but the first quarter moon didn’t provide enough light.
“Get in” the driver said without emotion. Hank knew what that meant – probably his last car ride. At first, he didn’t move. Should he run? Should he fight? He didn’t want to be killed in his mother’s front yard with her just inside the house. That would be too much for the old woman. His hesitation showed because the driver suddenly showed his right hand clutching a large, black Colt revolver.
“I said, GET IN.” said the man, quietly but emphatically. Hank contemplated. Then, with a huge surrendering sigh, he made his way through the front yard toward the street where the vehicle waited like a large black coffin. Hands shaking, he reached down, slowly opened the back door and got in, sitting just inside. As the car door closed, the vehicle sped away. The sound of the closing door woke his mother.
“Where are we headed?’ Hank asked. No answer. Would they take him to an isolated spot and shoot him in the head? At least it would be quick. Maybe he could convince them. “Y’all know that I don’t know anything. I was there, but I didn’t hear what was said.” The men replied with silence. The night was dark, cold, and eerily silent, but inside the car it seemed to be darker and colder to Hank. He was truly afraid.
Pensacola is situated at the extreme northwest corner of Florida on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Its historical roots reach well before the 1500s. Originally founded by native Americans and laid out by the Spanish, many of the streets are named after Spanish rulers and heroes. But at this time of morning, the normally busy downtown was empty. As old as it is, the town is not large. Even the sailors from the nearby navy base know that the town shuts down as soon as the last bar closes. The big car moved up Reus Street to Garden Street and turned right. “Maybe they are just trying to scare me!” Hank thought. But deep down inside he knew the truth. These men weren’t sent here to scare him. After all, he did possess some information.
The three figures rode in silence for three blocks, although it seemed like miles to Hank. As the driver got to the main drag – Palafox Street – he turned right and began heading south. At 4:19 am, the road was deserted except for the street sweeper.
The driver proceeded two blocks to Intendencia Street. He turned the corner and stopped. Hank swallowed deeply. I guess this is it… he thought to himself. The two men in the front seat exited the automobile. The driver said something low and unintelligible to the other man, who nodded in agreement. Hank could see that both were dressed in black overcoats. The driver wore a black felt fedora and gloves. Hank wondered if he really needed gloves, but that caused his imagination to run wild. The passenger had on a similar fedora, but it was grey. He kept clinching his fists. Hank couldn’t tell if it was due to the chilly weather, or if the man was preparing for action…but he figured it didn’t matter. Neither man smiled nor showed any expression. Hank got the impression that they had done this before.
“Get out” ordered the passenger, unemotionally. Hank could now see that both men were armed with revolvers. They wanted him to notice. Hank sat for a moment. This might be his last walk – ever. If their intention was to frighten Hank, it worked. He was visibly shaken. “Guys, you don’t have to do this” he pleaded. “I’m not gonna say nothin.” The passenger – the larger of the two – finally spoke. “HE SAID TO GET OUT OF THE CAR!”
His voice was unemotional, as cold and dark as the night. Finally, slowly, Hank exited the big automobile. In the dim light provided by the streetlight, Hank could finally see the faces of his intimidating sentinels. Neither showed any expression. They were simply doing a job. Hank thought he recognized the driver as someone he had seen before in Dallas. Was it at Jack Ruby’s club? Maybe at the Dallas Police Department. He couldn’t remember, but he was convinced he had seen him somewhere.
Silently, the solemn trio walked to the corner of Palafox and Intendencia Streets. Suddenly, before Hank could react, the quiet night air was pierced with the crash of the large window on the corner store.